Empire Deluxe
for PC (DOS)

Empire-box.jpg
Mr Creosote:dogchainx:Overall:
4/6
Popular Vote:
5/6
Company: White Wolf Productions / New World Computing
Year: 1993
Genre: Strategy
Theme: Board / Historical / Multiplayer / Nautical / War
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 46143
Review by Mr Creosote (2020-07-25)
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The Deluxe versions of the early to mid 1990s were a strange trend. Essentially, those games were remakes with very light extensions of the originals' gameplay. Deluxe M.U.L.E. never made it to completion, but among others, Railroad Tycoon, Pirates! and Warlords II got such a treatement. And, of course, Empire. For this game, it was hardly the first remake. Best known for the 1987 version subtitled Wargame of the Century, its history actually reaches back to the mainframes of the 70s, obviously fully character based at the time, before being ported to the then current home computers of the 80s, with a graphical facelift in order to enable commercial exploitation of the by then fully matured game.

Consequently, Empire Deluxe is anything but a far cry from that previous release. Players can feel right at home, even down to virtually identical icons being used to represent the military units. The basic concept of starting out with one single city and conquering the yet to be explored world by producing such armies being obiously retained anyway. Indeed, this game plays identical to its predecessor in its standard mode.

The most apparent change is on the presentation side. Even if it's not as much as expected. Graphics can still be considered functional at best. The high screen resolutions supported (up to 800x600, something rarely seen in games at the time) offer a good overview of the battlefields, but not much more, and they are still the high point of this overall aspect. Controls are alright, but some things just take too many clicks; particularly, scrolling which forces you to actually use the bars on the screen sides, and "waking" a unit from sentry duty again. As far as sound is concerned, apart from some forgettable battle effects, the game features the music from hell!

During battles, there is exactly one tune which is constantly played. The melody is boring, but it wouldn't be worth further talking about, if it had been integrated right. Though as it is, every time a new unit becomes active, the tune starts over. The average map is quite large, with many units active at the same time. Typical player behaviour isn't to take time to plan strategy per unit, but to come up with an overall plan and then simply carry it out. Meaning the units are moved in rapid succession – having the effect that only the first one or two seconds of the music are constantly repeated over and over again. For sure, music isn't the most important aspect in a strategic war game, but here, it leaves the impression of its integration never even having been properly tested. Speakers off, everyone!

Technically questionable decisions aside, Empire Deluxe may have been a little old-fashioned in 1993, but it has become brutally out of touch with typical player expectations and playing patterns another 27 years later. It's a long game, not structured into major phases or otherwise guided. There are no major changes of gameplay throughout and of course, it does suffer from the "long endgame" where although the winner is already clear, the game just goes on for another hour or two until it's official. Casual playing in small bites is just impossible.

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For those who are still reading at this point, i.e. those we can assume to still be interested in such a genre, let's go into the details of the gameplay.

One design choice which keeps distinguishing Empire from many other war games is its clear focus on naval operations. Land forces are limited to a single basic unit type, the same for the air force. The navy, on the other hand, can consist of a whole six different ship types. Even disregarding the army transporter and the aircraft carrier, four remain. Three being simply ships of different sizes, where the strategic challenge is basically the trade-off between power versus production time, but the final one being a submarine for which special visibility rules apply (transports and even the behemoth battle ships are particularly vulnerable against them). Although finally, the victory condition is conquering all cities, which can only by done with land armies, those land battles are solely a matter of quantity attrition. The real strategic part comes with planning where to attack and how to transport those armies there – usually across sea. Meaning the challenge is to first protect your vulnerable transports on the journey, then clear the shores through bombardment and then landing to march towards the cities.

Deluxe adds a simplified mode which reduces the number of available units (not further worth discussing) and an advanced mode which adds two new units. Land armies are split into infantry and armors (re-using the sole army icon of the predecessor…), with the latter being a faster and tougher version of the former, which however take longer to produce. Also, they have to mind the diversified terrain types: forests slow them down, mountains are completely unnaccessible etc. Bombers are vulnerable to fighters, but they have the ability to bomb cities to hurt their production capacity. Falling victim to a successful bombing raid, units will take longer to produce subsequently. Efficiency which can only be regained by pausing unit production for some turns.

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The success of such conceptual extensions in strategy games can be judged – in the negative – whether they destroy any of the previous balance and – in the positive – whether they open up new strategic options. If none of the two is true, the extension is purely for show, adding just more quantity to something already established.

It all went well in this case. Although changes appear light on the surface, especially the aspects of production efficiency and city production specialization (allowing for certain unit types to be produced in less than the regular time) add a strategic world simulation level previously not found in the game, but fitting in seamlessly, opening new pathways on the original foundation without turning it upside down. The litmus test turns out positive realizing that like the interception of large-scale sea transports before, targetted production bombing can turn the tides of war around, enabling a smart, but so far unlucky and small faction to topple over a much larger giant.

With the strategic breadth and depth expanded in such a ways, Empire Deluxe remains the version to play within this long ancestral line. Whether given the lack of large-scale changes, it was worth its price in 1993 for owners of any previous version is not such a pressing question anymore today. Its niche target audience certainly has not increased since then. Nevertheless, within this niche, it's a good pick.

Review by dogchainx (2015-01-10)
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Empire Deluxe was released in the early 90s as a rewrite of the earlier Empire: Wargame of the Century game. Even though the game is pretty basic compared to many other strategy games of the day, it still won a lot of hearts during its release. So much so that Empire Deluxe is still sold commercially online! Back in the very early 90s, this was one of the few strategy games that sucked my time away. Let’s take a look at this classic…

The starting of a new game opens up a menu of what type of rules you want to play by: Basic, Standard, or Advanced. Basic pits you against a computer-controlled opponent in a 50x50 randomly generated world map. There’s no customization with Basic and the world map is fully visible to both players. The game has a very simple premise: Capture cities to build more units. You either win by capturing the enemy’s last city or they surrender. It’s quite straightforward, but when played with the STANDARD and ADVANCED modes, Empire Deluxe gives a much richer experience!

STANDARD rules opens up the flexibility and difficulty of the game. The starting menu gives you choices of how many opponents, who controls them (another player or computer, up to six total) and handicaps for production and combat, and finally the size of the world map (up to 150x200… massive for this game). Standard rules mode adds the FIGHTER, the SUBMARINE and the CARRIER units. STANDARD rules also introduces the fog of war, where the entire map is blacked out except your immediate surroundings. You’ll have to explore with your units to find out the best strategy for your starting locale. The units aren't all dumb either as you can set GO TO points, set PATROL areas, and a variety of other commands so you’re not micro-managing each move a unit makes per turn. This makes the game much more enjoyable when you have 50+ units on the map.

ADVANCED game mode is pretty much like STANDARD except it adds units the ARMORED unit and the BOMBER. Armored is a tougher unit than the ARMY and is the only other unit that can capture cities. The BOMBER is most other units’ worst nightmare, except the FIGHTER. I've seen dozens of transports loaded with heavy armor get sunk by enemy bombers.

Advanced mode on a large map with numerous opponents is where this game really shines. The AI is basic, but is relentless with survival. If you miss just one enemy city, that might be all that is needed for the tide of the war turn against you. Though the game is easier to win once you've got the larger number of units, the sheer size of maps and the slow movement of units makes you really think where you should have your units. I've experienced some edge-of-seat moments where I’m kicking ass then a dozen moves later I’m barely surviving because of an enemy attack on my far-off city snowballed into the AI capturing half my cities in the surrounding areas. Sending off patrol units and having air support is paramount for survival.

You may have noticed that there are only two land units, two air units, and six sea units. The game emphasizes the need to have a good naval force in order to win. The random maps have the land masses usually being small with a lot of water in between. You can only move your land units over water with the transports, and they are easy pickings from enemy air planes and warships. There are quite a number of strategies you need to employ in order to win the game. Air superiority, a large naval force, a good sized army… all are needed to win.

I’ll only briefly mention the world map editor, even though it offers a wide variety of editing options. You can paint to your heart’s content a new map and scenario you’d like to play. In fact, I don’t think it leaves anything out that you can’t place. Want to setup the D-Day invasion? Go for it!

The game has a number of fall downs that take it from 6/6 to 4/6 though. I’ve played Civilization a LOT, and that’s about as close to a game to this as I can use as a comparison. You can’t upgrade units or cities in Empire Deluxe. There’s also no technology tree and no ability to negotiate with enemies. What you see is what you get in Empire Deluxe. It doesn’t pretend to be a Civilization-clone, it’s a straight-up strategy game. Also I have to mention the music. Even though the music isn't particularly bad, the execution of how the music starts over after each movement of the unit makes listening to it worse than pulling teeth! (Mr Creosote mentions the same thing in his review.)

I have fond memories of playing Empire Deluxe, since it was the first strategy game I can remember playing on the PC back in the early 90s. If you want a basic strategy game, and don’t want to get into the micromanagement of a game like Civilization, but want more flexibility than Risk, then Empire Deluxe will be right up your alley.

Give it a whirl. Just make sure to leave judgment of the game after you play a round or two on advanced mode with 5 computer controlled opponents. That’s where the real meat of the game is.

Archived Review(s) ↓

Review by Mr Creosote (2000-09-04)
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Empire inspired a whole generation of programmers to do similar games. The concept is simple, yet addicting: Start with one city, build up an army and conquer the whole (unknown) world. That's it. Plain and simple. Maybe you've had this many times before, but certainly not often that well done!

Empire Deluxe stresses sea combat. There are far more ship types than different ground units or planes. Of course the cities are still the most important thing, but you have to get to all the islands first. And that's what you need a strong navy for. Cities aren't easy to defend anyway, because you can't fortify units in them. So an offensive strategy is more likely to be successful.

The different difficulty levels are extremely well done. More and more rules are introduced. It's very customizable, so that it can be suited to everyone. On higher levels there's even an economical component: The cities have different production capacities which can be increased or decreased by bombing them. In multiplayer games (real fun!) you can also choose handicaps for experienced players.

Beside the random maps, there are scenarios (most of them from the data disks). All kinds of battles are included: fictional, historical and even s-f ones. Don't expect real 'simulations' of historical wars. It's not at all realistic! But that's not, what the game is about. It's just quick fun. And the editor is really cool, too.

This 'Deluxe' version also features very good graphics in high resolutions. A big plus, because you can see MUCH of the map at once!

The only downside: The sound. I really don't understand how somebody could have had the idea of starting the so-called music again everytime you've moved a unit. Annoying!
You won't be disappointed!

There is a new version of this game called "Empire Deluxe Internet Edition" which is basically just the old game running on current Microsoft OS' and with Internet capabilities added.

Personally, I strongly dislike how system requirements of that game have been needlessly bloated and how you need a spyware OS to play it. Still, I want to support this effort, because it shows there are at least some people who still care for classic game concepts. Even at the cost of the original game disappearing from view. That is why we're not providing a download anymore. If you were searching for the classic DOS game, I'm sorry - we can't help you there.

Comments (1) [Post comment]

pat (2000-09-04):

Excelent game,will run on most any pc.
The windows version does need some work but over all I would say that both the DOS and Windows versions are great for an afternoon of gaming.
I just wish that they had added some cut sceens or animation to the windows version.
Two thumbs up for EMPIRE DLX.

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